Whether you’ve reached the end of your education and want to bookmark the occasion, or if you want to reward personal professional success with an extended holiday, it may well be time to join the stampede of people taking a year out to see the world, and enjoy its many pleasures. Such an excursion need not only be seen as a reward; there are few better ways to take a step back and evaluate yourself than to remove yourself from the life that you have built for yourself, and truly assess your personal and professional trajectory. Perspective will surely be easier to find somewhere unfamiliar and far away.
Once you’ve made the decision to take a year out, it’s time to apply yourself to the less entertaining part of the experience: the planning. We’re not even going attempt to dress this up as exciting, it really isn’t, but in order to get the most out of your gap year, it’s important to make sure that you have dotted all the ‘I’s and crossed all the ‘T’s.
Know the culture(s)
Not the first bit of preparation that you would necessarily consider before a holiday, but this is of particular importance if you intend to stay in a particular country for a long period of time. In essence, there are two positive outcomes to familiarising yourself with the local culture and customs of your destination, or destinations. Firstly, going in with some level of cultural awareness will allow you to better avoid being hit by cultural shock. It sounds like a bit of a joke, and there are many hilarious anecdotes to be found around the internet on the subject, but being on the receiving end can really ruin large swathes of your year out!
Secondly, humorous misunderstandings and personal discomfort aside, unfamiliarity with local customs can ultimately lead to real offence being taken on the part of local people. For example, in some particularly conservative Middle Eastern nations, female tourists showing too much flesh can cause extreme disrespect to the locals. And to be very clear, the local definition of ‘too much flesh’ will almost certainly disagree with yours, so make sure you know the lay of the land in your chosen destinations.
Maintain a degree of flexibility
Another idea that may not immediately spring to mind when contemplating a year out, but ensure that the travel plan that you create maintains a degree of flexibility! A year is a long time, and lots of things can change over that period. From a personal perspective, your time abroad may influence your itinerary; other travellers may offer alternative destinations that trump your original plans, or you may decide to stay in your current location a bit longer than originally planned, if you haven’t had a chance to see everything that you originally intended to.
From a political perspective, governments can change extremely quickly in some regions. Nations can slide from being tenable holiday destinations to chaotic war zones and even locales that would traditionally be considered to be stable and safe, can quickly become anything but. It’s important to remember that you may not be covered under your travel insurance policy if you travel to a country where the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against travel.
Get the right insurance
With any long term travel plans; whether for a backpacking holiday, gap year, or even a last minute holiday, getting the correct holiday insurance should be of paramount importance to you. After all, not only is insurance vital for your peace of mind and security while partaking in long-term travel, but shopping around and finding the right insurance policy for your needs will also save you money, regardless of whether you ever make a claim.
When looking for a policy to cover your long-term travel plans, it’s important to match the variety of travel, and the activities you intend to partake in, as closely as possible, otherwise you may well end up paying for coverage that you just don’t need; or even worse, not be covered when something goes wrong during your trip. Insurance providers such as ours specialise in insurance policies for specific holiday types, so you can be sure that you will get the precise coverage that you need for your trip, while also providing you with the best possible price.
Work out a budget, take more
In terms of budgeting, a general rule of thumb is that, pre-holiday, you’ll always end up underestimating the amount of currency that you’ll need. That’s why our advice is to take a bit more than you think you’ll need; there’s no need to go completely overboard, but as a general principle, when you’re far away from home, it’s better to have too much with you than too little.
How you use and store the money that you intend to take with you is also an important consideration prior to your trip. The traditional method of utilising the services of a currency exchange is not a great idea for long term travel, for a number of reasons. The most obvious is that, if you intend to be travelling across a few different nations, you’ll have to individually budget and exchange currency for each individual nation that you intend to visit.
The second issue with utilising the services of a currency exchange is that, if your budget estimates are imprecise, you’ll either have to utilise horrific local exchange rates to top up your diminishing funds, or exchange any excess foreign currency that you mistakenly over-withdrew; paying often extortionate exchange charges when you do so.
The solution to these problems is the utilisation of a pre-paid card, which provides a number of advantages over utilising physical foreign currency, as well as debit or credit cards. A prepaid card allows you to conserve space, while also providing additional protection against loss or theft; you can easily block a card if it goes missing, and replacements can be cheaply and quickly sourced, with the balance easy to switch across. Just keep an eye out for any hidden fees!